TAFTO 2006 Essay Contest Winner

The winning submission from the TAFTO 2006 essay contest is published at The Partial Observer and is written by Jessica D. from Centennial, CO. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not teenagers would want to go nuts in the privacy of their own room playing the tambourine part to Capricio Espaniol, then look no further.


My apologies in advance to everyone who stopped by today for Part 2 of For TAFTO, It Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word ‘Is’ Is. The essay contest announcement trumps getting Part 2 up but rest assured, it will be up first thing tomorrow morning.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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11 thoughts on “TAFTO 2006 Essay Contest Winner”

  1. Interesting observation Ravi and I agree. A similar situation happened at last year’s TAFTO event where I took a newbie to their first concert. They showed up in a coat and tie and I didn’t. As such, “perceived” is the key word here.

    It would be interesting to find out where that perception came from and what they will think about it after going to a few more concerts. Will the novelty of dressing up wear off after she goes to a few more concerts (of course, we’re assuming it’s “dressing up”, you never know)?

  2. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve never purchased high-end clothing for a movie, even if it was a date. But there is something very appealing in the way that everybody “cleans up” for a more formal event–so it’s no surprise that buying a new dress was a motivation for Jessica. Heck, I’m long out of highschool and I feel the same way!

    Actually, since my day job is recruiting new subscribers & donors for a symphony, I can attest to the fact that many of our new patrons are motivated by the whole event of the evening, and not so much the particular symphony program. If they go with a peer group and they’ve carefully planned transportation, dining, and clothing, then they are predisposed to consider the evening worthwhile. In fact, the extra effort often creates a heightened appreciation for the experience.

  3. Drew wrote: “Interesting observation Ravi and I agree. …As such, “perceived” is the key word here.”

    I’ve seen high school and college-age students at LA Philharmonic concerts. Many of them do dress for the occasion: Young men in coat and tie, young women in a dress. There are also those of all ages who come informally attired.

    Drew wrote: “…Will the novelty of dressing up wear off after she goes to a few more concerts …”

    My impression: The promise of a new dress and a fancy night out may have gotten her and her friends in the door but that the Colorado Symphony’s performance was what grabbed her and made her want to return. (I’m also bearing in mind that the family could afford to give these youngsters an evening like this)

    Andrea writes: “…I can attest to the fact that many of our new patrons are motivated by the whole event of the evening,…”

    A few years ago, the LA Philharmonic played up the value of subscriptions as part of “Great Nights Out” that included setting aside couples time, sitting next to potential new friends, dining out before or after, etc. This was pitched at adults, though. It was well before Disney Hall came off the mat and I think it was during the short Wijnbergen tenure between Fleischmann and Borda. Maybe someone at the Phil would comment on whether the campaign was successful or not.

    Ravi Narasimhan
    Redondo Beach, CA

  4. I wonder if the parents even thought twice about handing over the cash for the concert. So many of my friends with teens say that they give about fifty bucks per kid per weekend for entertainment alone.

  5. I might add the observation that a nice dress, stiff drinks, and good friends could precede ANY great night out.

    However…new symphony attenders are still just as susceptible to a revelatory moment in a live performance as humans always have been. It may be the thousandth time Olga Kern has performed the 3rd Rachmaninoff piano concerto, but somebody in the audience will walk away stunned by hearing it for the first time. That conversion moment is maybe more important than anything else. It’s certainly what we’re hoping to hear about when we call them up later in the week.

  6. The moment after the introduction to the Symphonic Dances is a flawless, suspended moment in time. The entire piece is a crazy, masculine, yet touching work that in my need to describe its genius reminds me of the Alfred Brendel qoute, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” The thought that anyone of almost any age would listen to that piece and not have a transforming experience is unfathomable. I was there the night of the ‘TAFTO Essay’ concert. I happened to be onstage. Since it’s my vocation to win people over, to convince them of the amazing power of this music, I am not surprised by the essay. As soon as they get in the door, I have no fear. All I ask is that they get there. Somehow. Anyhow. Wearing anything.There are lots of good people doing lots of usual and unusual things to help this happen, and I am grateful. If there is man or woman in need of fresh inspiration on how to market a symphony, I have only one very humble suggestion: Get closer. Come up on stage even, and stand there while we play. Feel instead of think. You might even find a new way to dance about architecture.

  7. Andrea writes: “However…new symphony attenders are still just as susceptible to a revelatory moment in a live performance as humans always have been.”

    My revelatory moment with the LA Phil was Simon Rattle conducting Mahler’s 4th in 2000. I have been subscribing ever since.

    Gaines writes: “All I ask is that they get there. Somehow. Anyhow. Wearing anything.”

    A lot of readers have spoken about the rigid formality of a classical music concert. Where I attend, no one seems to care what other people wear. Could be one of the beneficial side effects of LA self-absorption. The only unspoken request I can think of is to hold applause until the end of a piece which doesn’t seem all that outrageous.
    I hope that the distinct character of a concert is preserved in the rush to make these evenings more informal and friendly. There is some evidence from the essay winner and Andrea’s experiences that mild formality might not be entirely bad.

    Ravi Narasimhan
    Redondo Beach, CA

  8. I have never been a real serious performer of classical music and have made the vast majority of my acquaintance with it through performance. When I was 11 and 12, I used to be toted along with my parents to chamber music concerts at the University of Maryland, where they could get me in for $5 by presenting my student ID. I always wore jeans and a sweater. It was at these concerts that I learned how much ass classical music truly did kick. But I never did feel comfortable at the symphony in my youth – I never seemed to muster the requisite formality (even though my parents would say I was dressed OK), and you need that as a shield when you’re already 15 years old and attending the symphony alone. I overheard a few semi-snide remarks about me when I would go to the Kennedy Center to see the NSO (on cheapie tickets). Now that doesn’t seem to happen, but as a 15-year-old it did. I guess it’s hard to say whether the formality or the jackass patrons had more to do with me not liking to go to the symphony as a youth, but the formality was at least part of it.

    Also, during high school I was convinced the Symphonic Dances were the greatest work written in the 20th century. I am not convinced of this now, but I still love them to death. I wish we heard them more often here in Washington.

  9. The winning essay was delightful!

    Several have noted above, that the dress, the anticipation of the concert added to the excitement of the event. When musical events were not so frequent as they are now, to go to a concert of any kind was an “event.” Dressing up showed respect for the event and the quality of music being performed.
    Recently, I attended a local symphony concert
    at which most everyone was wearing “street” clothes, suits for men, and suits, or pant suits, for women. It was especially poignant to see a young couple come down the aisle, the young woman dressed in a long evening gown, with stole, and a small tiara on her head, and her male companion, in a tux. I think it was obvious they expected the evening to be a very special one, a great attitude to bring to a concert. It brought back memories of the same orchestra’s concerts in the 1970’s when women “dressed to kill” in evening gowns and everyone showed up because it was “the thing to do.” Now, informality has taken its place and apathy toward attendance is the norm. (a correlation?)

    It’s still about the music, though, and it should not make any difference what people wear.

  10. Who are you, Gaines?! (Some kind of code name!) That’s pretty powerful stuff coming from a member of the CSO! I hope your optimism about being able to hook the audience upon entering the hall is infectious. If we could be inspired to feel like that collectively, then I’m sure we’ll be better positioned to connect with many more Jessica Ds.

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